A little household help may reduce health-care costs among elderly

Older people who do not have help for daily tasks such as dressing and bathing are much more likely to be hospitalized for acute illness than older adults who receive the help they need, a Purdue University study indicates, suggesting that reducing health-care costs for older adults may be as simple as providing them with a little household help each day.

A research team, including Purdue nursing professor Laura P. Sands, has found evidence that older adults who qualify for nursing-home care because of their disabilities in daily tasks can continue to live in their homes provided they receive assistance with fundamental needs such as bathing, dressing and preparing food. Elders who lived alone without such needed assistance were more likely to require hospitalization. After a few weeks of help with daily tasks, however, the need for health care dropped off, implying that a little help with the basics goes a long way.

"While such essential care would not include the cost of visits to the doctor, our data suggest that people who receive additional assistance would be less likely to be hospitalized, and that could conceivably allow us to keep our health care-costs down while still providing for our frail elders," said Sands, who is an associate professor of nursing in Purdue's College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Sciences. "As our population ages, there will be more need to find economical ways to care for this group, and adequate home-based care could be both less expensive and more effective for some than full-time nursing-home care."

The group's report appears in the Feb. 6 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Team members also include Purdue's Yun Wang, George P. McCabe and Kristofer Jennings; the University of California, San Francisco's Catherine Eng and Kenneth E. Covinsky.

To examine what effect living with unmet needs had on the use of medical services, Sands' team studied 2,943 frail older people enrolled

Contact: Chad Boutin
Purdue University

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